By Lloyd Phillips
Conservationists have lauded the efforts of different police units and a private anti-poaching business for preventing a potential rhino poaching incident in Zululand recently.
More often than not rhino poachers are caught with their booty after the crime, having left maimed or dead rhinos in their wake.
According to KwaZulu-Natal SAPS spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker, it was a combination of good intelligence and strategy that led to the arrests of four suspected rhino poachers in the private Zulu Nyala Reserve in the Hluhluwe area.
The operation to apprehend the suspects was conducted jointly by members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – also known as the Hawks – the Stock Theft Unit, the Special Task Force, the SAPS Air Wing and the privately operated Nyathi Anti-Poaching Unit.
“While the operation was in progress police observed two cars arriving at the game reserve,” said Naicker in a press statement. “It is alleged that the occupants of the vehicles cut the fence and entered the game reserve. Police then pounced on them and seized three axes and a hunting rifle with a silencer in [the suspects’\ possession. All four suspects were arrested and charged for illegal poaching and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.”
Chris Galliers, biodiversity programme manager with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), praised the arrests and the proactive efforts that went into them.
“Public/private relationships are critical for combatting rhino poaching,” he said. “It’s important to build up trust between all involved in these relationships. Rhino poachers are moving around freely and if we don’t communicate freely on this then we’re on a hiding to nothing.”
Galliers highlighted Project Rhino KZN as a working example of how like-minded people and organisations could pool skills, energies and resources in tackling SA’s rhino poaching epidemic.
“There’s certainly been an improvement [in the convictions and sentences handed down to rhino poachers\, but there are issues that are still not acceptable, like giving cheap bail to rhino poaching suspects and then also taking a very long time to prosecute them. Recently there was a case of a suspected rhino poacher who was arrested again for poaching while out on bail,” he said.